by Lisa Wolfson
Thinking about the new year has taken on new meaning for me in recent years. As a survivor, I experience a wide range of emotions, from joy surrounding the festivities to anxiety about what the new year might bring. I can’t help wondering if this will be a good year or if it will be the year I have a cancer reoccurrence. I also realize that no matter how much people say, “You shouldn’t think about that,” or “You’re healthy now, so why would you worry?” I still can’t avoid feeling a little vulnerability around the holidays.
What I can control, though, is how I react to those thoughts. As the holidays approach — New Year’s, in particular — I take these five steps:
- First and foremost, I don’t deny what I’m feeling. I acknowledge my fear, I give it some consideration, and then I put it into the following perspective: I am healthy right now and working to stay that way, and if the long-range plan for me is anything less, how else would I want to bring in this new year except with memorable joy and love? I then set my mind to making the holiday a celebration for me and everyone around me. I create a great memory.
- After acknowledging my feelings, I make sure to stay busy enough that I can’t be overwhelmed by dwelling on these thoughts.
- I simplify my New Year’s resolution. Unlike in previous years, when I would either set unreasonable expectations or pick one of the usual “lose twenty pounds” or “learn to . . . whatever,” now I tell myself to just “keep my heart light,” which, if achieved, brings everything in life into balance. Inner peace means more to me now than ever before.
- I know that not everyone will understand why I’m experiencing so many different emotions at this time of year. By recognizing that other people are not facing this occasion with quite the same intensity as I am, I try not to take the actions or reactions of other people personally.
- I remind myself to participate actively in the festivities. This helps me to stay positive and light, and doesn’t make me as vulnerable to the words or actions of others. It also helps to make the memory of this holiday a happy one for years to come.
And for those celebrating holidays with survivors, especially holidays that look to the future as New Year’s does, I offer these helpful hints:
Be respectful of your survivor’s feelings even though you may not fully understand them. Don’t say things like “You shouldn’t worry, it’s not healthy.” Simply try to engage the person so they don’t retreat into deep negative thoughts.
Be compassionate but DO NOT pity the person. Pity only validates that there is something to feel bad about. Compassion is heartwarming — it affirms your understanding and acceptance that emotions are running high during the holidays.
Be positive and upbeat and include the person in your celebrations.
I have begun a tradition of adding something new each year to my holiday celebrations with family and friends. Last year I added a special blessing before our holiday meal. This year everyone will have an unlit candle near their place setting that we will all light in unison and keep burning throughout our meal.
New traditions are forward-thinking and future-minded. They give me something to look forward to and focus on in a positive way. New traditions are a great way to start the new year!
Lisa Wolfson lives in Rockville Centre, New York, and volunteers at You Can Thrive!, an organization that provides free and low-cost support services for breast cancer survivors.